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Where to find zucchini in Marrakesh

Street markets in Marrakesh

One day, soon after moving into my new neighborhood, I stopped to buy something for dinner. I wanted to buy zucchini, but I didn’t see it, and didn’t know the Arabic word for it.

When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, we learned pithy sayings from the old folks, like, “That man is so stupid he couldn’t find his [butt] with both hands.” Personally, I never lost track of mine, and didn’t feel the need to go looking for it. Thus equipped, I joined Peace Corps and went off to Morocco in 1981.

I lived alone the first year, unable to find a big house in the medina, the old city, to share with other Volunteers. I stayed in the Gueliz, the modern part of town where all the French people hung out. There were nice stores, and the shopkeepers all spoke French. It was organized, and convenient, but it was not the Peace Corps experience I expected. I disliked it and I couldn’t wait to move into the medina. I wanted to live in a real Moroccan neighborhood.

The second year, I found my dream house in the medina, inside Bab Doukkala, the main northwestern gate inside the medina, on Arset Aouzal. I went grocery shopping in local markets that were organized the traditional way – stall by stall (hanoot by hanoot). A row of meat shops, then a row of vegetable shops, and so on, all lined up along the narrow medina streets.

Carl Henn in Kenya
Carl Henn served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco in the 1980s. Since then, he has visited and worked in more than half of the 54 nations in Africa.

But which shop should I choose? They all sold the same things. There was a young Berber man in each shop. If you liked him, and he liked you, he would give you a little break on the price, so you bought from him. I found my guy. He quickly learned my Arabic was weak. I could point and choose my items from among the rows of neatly stacked fresh vegetables on display in his tidy little hanoot.

One day, soon after moving into the neighborhood, I stopped to buy something for dinner. I wanted to buy zucchini, but I didn’t see it, and I didn’t know the Arabic name for it. I asked, “Where is zucchini?” (Feen zucchini?) I tried to make zucchini sound like an Arabic word.

My guy laughed, then discreetly covered his mouth, and said, “it’s behind you" in Arabic. I thought he meant the vegetable seller on the other side of the street, so I turned around and looked, but I still didn’t see it. I turned back to him, and said, “I still don’t see it, where is it, exactly?” He laughed and said, “It’s right behind you, where it is all the time.” I suddenly felt confused and disoriented. Behind me all the time?

By now, we attracted a small crowd of passers-by who seemed to find my search for zucchini quite funny. I kept turning around, thinking that I would be able to spot and grab the elusive zucchini.

The crowd and the laughter grew. I was wondering what the joke was, when someone in the crowd took pity on me, and explained to me in French that “zucchini” in Arabic means “my bottom.”

So, I had been asking the guy where my bottom was, and he had been telling me where to find it, but I didn’t understand. He must have wondered how lost some foreigners are if they can’t find their own bottom without asking for directions. At least I didn’t have to use both my hands. Ignoring the laughter, I made my purchases and hurried home.

Please don’t tell the folks back home in Indiana. I’ll never be able to face them again. And, by the way, if you ever come to Marrakesh, you’ll have to find your own zucchini.